Jacks overcome wind to claim third straight section football title with 40-24 win over Hermantown
A spectator who watched Bemidji as the athletes went through their practice ritual prior to Friday night's Section 7-4A championship game against Hermantown could tell that the Lumberjacks were ready to play.
In workmanlike fashion the players tested themselves during the warm-up session and devised what would work offensively and defensively when the 20 mile per hour wind coming off Lake Bemidji was their ally and when it was the adversary.
The lessons learned during the 60-minute practice period proved valuable as Bemidji continued its mastery of the section field and throttled Hermantown 40-24 to claim its third consecutive section championship.
The reward for Friday's performance is a berth in the state tournament and Friday's quarterfinal game against Spring Lake Park which claimed the Section 6 crown Friday with a 29-14 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret. The contest will be played at St. Cloud State at 8 p.m.
"We didn't let the wind affect us," said BHS coach Troy Hendricks whose team improved to 10-0.
"Offensively, if you throw the football with a tight spiral and keep the nose of the ball down, the wind is not a factor. And Mitchell does a great job at that."
The coach was referring to Lumberjacks quarterback Mitchell Hendricks and Friday he was the master of all he surveyed. Behind his orchestration Bemidji utilized its running game and scored on its two first-quarter drives into the wind. When the gale was at Bemidji's back in the second period the quarterback went to the passing game and the result was three touchdowns on three possessions.
"We have special packages to take advantage of the wind and the weather conditions," Mitchell Hendricks said. "We'll take whatever the defense will give us and whatever works best with the wind and the weather."
Mitch Brown was the main weapon during the two scoring drives into the wind. Behind the senior's gritty running between the tackles, and a shuffle pass that caught Hermantown by surprise and gained 21 yards, the stage was set for Hendricks' 1-yard run with 5:48 to play in the quarter which opened the scoring.
A bobbled snap resulted in a missed extra point but the trend had been established.
As is its custom, the BHS defense forced a three-and-out on Hermantown's ensuing drive and only a 68-yard wind-aided punt which sailed into Bemidji's end zone gave the Hawks some hope.
Within the next three minutes, however, the Jacks would flex their muscles once again. The nine-play march featured six runs by Brown, including a 1-yard burst up the middle for the touchdown.
"When we were going into the wind the coach said that we should take a few shots with the pass but we should depend upon the line to create the holes," Mitchell Hendricks said. "The line made some huge holes and Mitch was very good at finding them."
Bemidji went to the passing game in the second stanza and the rewards were a pair of TD grabs by Carey Woods, the first from 27 yards out and the second a 51-yard bomb, plus a 35-yard touchdown grab by Cody Rutledge.
Hermantown managed to find the scoreboard with a halfback-pass trick play but when the half ended 33-7 everyone in the stadium knew that the Jacks would win the section.
Those thoughts were solidified 3:43 into the third quarter when Rutledge leaped over a pair of defenders and made a spectacular 14-yard touchdown grab.
"Cody is not scared of any situation. He'll do anything to help the team," Mitchell Hendricks said. "We have an entire team of guys who will go out and do what needs to be done to help us win."
A pair of safeties in the second half and two meaningless touchdowns against the reserves made the final score respectable but didn't tarnish Bemidji's run to the state tournament.
"Being the section champion for the third straight year feels very good," Mitchell Hendricks said. "But we're not satisfied. We know we need to play even better if we want to win the state championship.
"And that is our goal."
Hermantown 0 7 2 15 - 24
Bemidji 12 21 7 0 - 40
B-Hendricks, 1-run. PAT-Pass fail. 6:12
B-Brown, 1-run. PAT-run fail. 11:30
B-Woods, 27-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 6:15
B-Woods, 51-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 8:55
H-C.Anderson, 76-pass from Hiner. PAT-P.Anderson kick. 10:13
B-Rutledge, 35-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 11:20
B-Rutledge, 14-pass from Hendricks. PAT-Fodness kick. 3:43
H-Safety, Bemidji tackled in end zone. 9:31
H-Safety, Bemidji tackled in end zone. 4:34
H-Mensinger, 19-pass from Folman. PAT-P.Anderson kick. 7:57
H-Olson, 1-run. PAT-kick fail. 11:57